Monday, November 25, 2013

Psalm 122 and Vocation

I am writing for several reasons:

The Psalms are losing ground in protestant worship.  As a church musician, I am working in my congregation to raise awareness of the psalms and their vital necessity in worship.  We have a group at the church where I serve that meets every six or so weeks to talk about the psalms and they have decided to continue to meet now with the purpose of discovery and conversation about the lectionary psalms.
Additionally, the psalms are to be sung in community.  When we explore them in community, we arrive at different conclusions.  Our interpretations are as varied as the emotions that the psalter captures.
This blog will summarize our thoughts, but will also provide focus to at least one (if not maybe more) psalm a week, why it may be used in worship and particular themes that can be drawn from it.  Maybe it could work out that we can include what saints before us thought of particular psalms.

This Sunday is the first week of Advent in year A.  For Lutherans, the prescribed psalm for worship is 122:

 I was glad when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
    within your gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem—built as a city
    that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
    the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
    to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
    the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
    and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
    I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
    I will seek your good.
When thinking about this psalm I have remember and consider where it is placed in the lectionary.  It is the first psalm of the first Sunday of the first year of a three year cycle of readings.  Maybe it is arbitrary, but I don't think that it is.
What themes pop out at the reader of singer of this psalm?  Well, when consider time and space that is the context of the psalm a lot can pop out at us.  For instance, this is the first of the "Songs of Ascents" or simply the psalms sung in pilgrimage to Jerusalem by post-exilic Jews (or those folks from after the Babylonian captivity but before Jesus).
What is Jerusalem to the Israelites?  I think we have a few answers given to us in the words of this psalm.  It is the place where God dwells (i.e., the temple), it is the place where they give thanks, it is the place of judgment and justice. 
Verse four: do you notice how the tribes of the LORD is mentioned twice and then "was decreed for Israel" and then what?  To give thanks to the name of the LORD.  If this is a "Song of Ascent" or a pilgrimage psalm sung on the way to Jerusalem, what is their purpose for going?  "To give thanks unto the name of the LORD."  Here, I believe that we see vocation lined out for the people of Israel--worship, praise and thanksgiving.
But, that's not the end of the story.  What does it go on to say?  An affirmation of justice (hold on to that word--justice) and a prayer for peace.  And then, "For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, 'Peace be within you.'  For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good."  So if worship is their focus, seeking the good of their neighbor "fills out" their vocation. 
Here we have it.  The first psalm of Advent, the first psalm of the first cycle of readings for the church year having to do with worship as our focus and from that, and only from that, do we seek the good of our neighbor as God has designed.
The same is true to day.  What centers us as a community is worship.  What focuses us a people in our baptism is worship.  We are called together to "go up to the house of the LORD" and to give thanks, to worship, to praise and thus we are sent to seek the good of our neighbor.  This inaugural psalm defined the Jewish people and defines us today in terms of vocation.  Whether we serve in a local parish or a community organization, our work is centered in giving thanks unto the name of the LORD.
Thanks be to God!
This is from a Sunday morning in the church that I serve.  Sunday morning can be a very powerful time of the week that will send you out to do some crazy things to make the world a better place.